COVID still taking a bite out of county income

Jerrie Whiteley
Herald Democrat
Grayson County Auditor Suzette Smith talks to commissioners Tuesday about the county's most recent audit [Jerrie Whiteley / Herald Democrat].

Grayson County commissioners got a mixed bag of news Tuesday with regard to the county's finances. On the plus side, commissioners got an unqualified rating on its most recent audits, but on the negative side, COVID-19 continues to take a bite of out the region's receivables.

The county gets money through property taxes and fines and fees. All of those areas are down in 2021 compared to last year.

"Its going to be tight this year," Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said. "I don't think we are going to have a lot of wiggle room this year." 

County leaders had feared the shortfalls would continue into 2021 and that is the reason that the budgeted for $1 million less in the 2021 budget. The county's budget is generally in the neighborhood of about $40 million. 

Magers said in the most recent past, county budgets have been built to live off of the new growth in the county while the county commissioners cut the tax rate. That is possible because the county generally has excellent property tax collection rates.

Those rates were a bit behind this year. So far, they are at 93 percent of their normal collection rate and that is about two percent off of where they normally are at this time of the year.

"Two percent is about $800,000," Magers said.

While there is still time for some of that money to come in, Magers fears some of it may be lost because the companies that owe it have gone out of business during the pandemic.

The Grayson County Commissioners talked finances during its meeting about the mid-fiscal year report.

The county is about $1 million short right now. Luckily they did plan for short falls in both tax revenue and for revenue from fines and fees, Magers said. The local courts are opening back up and that should start generating more income.

"What I think this means, just to be honest with you is that we are not going to have surplus in our budget that we have had in the years past," he said.

Generally they build a budget based about a million dollars in deficit but by the time the new growth is added to the revenue side, things come out $ 1 million ahead even with the budgeted shortfall.

One thing that is helping to keep the picture from being more bleak is the fact that they have cut a lot of fat from the budget in recent years. However, Magers said there are still some things to consider at the year rolls on and as they start to look forward to building the next budget. 

First of all, the county family, like many families across America was not spared its own COVID-19 horror stories. While HIPPA law prevented Magers from saying which county employees were hit hardest, he said the county's health plan will take a hit from the cost of caring for those individuals. 

New growth this year is comparable to new growth last year and that should help. Right now, he said it looks like there should be about a $1.5 million increase in new property revenue. 

In addition to Magers' update, the court also heard from GC Auditor  Suzette Smith about the most recent audits. The 2020 audits that were just completed and included the county's general audit plus an audit of funds from the Probation Department, the Juvenile Probation and the Juvenile Detention Center.

She said the county audit also includes a single audit of all grant funds. 

"Our audit went very well this year as it has in years past," she said.

She then introduced Patillo Brown and Hill Manager Kent Willis.

The opinion letter gave the county "an unmodified opinion," which Magers said is a "fancy way of saying a clean opinion. It is quite literally the highest level of assurance that we can give on a set of financial statements for a government. So it's as good as it gets."